Last year, the inaugural Ladies Rock Milwaukee camp brought 16 women together for a weekend anchored on the principles of positivity and collaboration. Four bands worth of first-time musicians picked up instruments and worked all weekend, emerging from the three-day camp with (at least) one song to show for their efforts. Since the first iteration of Girls Rock Milwaukee’s adult component was a success, organizers decided to bring it back this year.
This time around, 22 women were split up into bands at last night’s kickoff event. They will work together in an intense weekend-long session and show Milwaukee what they’ve accomplished during a showcase at Company Brewing Sunday night. Before the camp started, co-organizer Mary Joy Hickey (who plays in Fox Face and also co-organized this year’s Riverwest FemFest) told Milwaukee Record how the first camp went, what to expect this time around, and why a creative outlet is an invaluable thing for women to have.
Milwaukee Record: After a few successful years of Girls Rock, you spearheaded Ladies Rock, correct?
Mary Joy Hickey: Actually, Ron Starke, who is the Managing Director of Girls Rock and works close with Val [Lucks] and Ashley [Smith], he had the initial idea. We were talking to a lot of campers’ mothers who wanted to be involved in doing something similar to Girls Rock. His wife was saying the same thing. She wanted to play drums, but where was the avenue for that? So he initially spearheaded the concept, and then I jumped on to it because, yeah, there needs to be a space for people to learn a new skill at any age in life. I can take it for granted that I got into music when I was really young, but I feel like there are a lot of different phases in life and you don’t always end up doing stuff that satisfies your soul.
MR: Yeah, things can get lost in the shuffle, then you look back and realize you never got around to learning how to play the drums. Some people might feel like it’s too late, but this gives women an opportunity to at least dip their toes into trying something they maybe missed.
MJ: I feel like it might be intimidating to just decide “Okay, I want to do this thing! Oh wait, music is collaborative for the most part, so how do I make this happen?” This provides a space for you to build relationships and also learn skills, technique, songwriting, et cetera. But it’s also about developing that confidence. It provides a way for people to get their creative energy out in a way they would never be able to by themselves.
MR: And the first camp seems to have gone well if you’re doing another one. What were a few of the highlights, and did year one exceed your expectations?
MJ: Absolutely. It was seriously one of the most transformative weekends of my life. I remember I was driving to Sugar Maple for the kickoff meeting and I was so nervous about the weekend. I didn’t know what to expect. We were planning this theoretical and idealistic idea of the camp we wanted. We had no idea if other people were going to get it or latch onto it or celebrate it with us. I walked into Sugar Maple and there was just a ton of positive energy, and that didn’t stop. Seriously, it was the most positive weekend I’ve ever had. Nothing rivals it. Every woman that came there was open to the experience and ready to learn, and ready to work together. It was really incredible. We had sixteen campers last year and we have twenty-two campers this year, and we’re offering keyboards this year, so we’re expanding.
MR: Girls Rock campers seem down for whatever, but it seems like once people reach a certain age, they’re typically not as willing to throw themselves into the unfamiliar. It’s awesome to hear Ladies Rock wasn’t that way. What are some of the differences you noticed in your experiences with both Girls Rock and Ladies Rock?
MJ: You just said it, the sheer risk for people that are there. I recognized it the moment I got there. Like, I know you’re putting yourself out there. I know you’re giving up your weekend. You’re here and away from your children, your husband, your job, your pet, and whatever stressors you might have in your life. You actually took time for yourself and for creativity.
MR: Where did last year’s bands land musically? Genre-wise, was there a lot of variation to what the four bands sounded like? I know it’s hard to say with only one song from each band, but did you notice a wide breadth?
MJ: It was very different. There was a very catchy pop-rock song, a punk song with an injection of experimental, there was a soul song, and a more straightforward garage rock song. It did really run the gamut and reflect the relationships that were formed. We let the campers pick their own band at the kickoff. All the campers come up and introduce themselves, talk about themselves, and build a sort of trust in the community.
MR: So you’re up from sixteen campers to twenty-two this year, but what are some of the other ways the camp will be different this time around? I know you have a new site for the showcase.
MJ: Yes, we have our showcase at Company Brewing on Sunday. That also provides an opportunity to record the bands before the showcase. The last day of camp, we’re going to give them an actual recording of the song they write. We have some variations in the workshops this year. We’re going to bring in a panel of women from our community that will talk about women and creativity and all the issues we struggle with every day.
The 2016 Ladies Rock Milwaukee camp culminates with a showcase at Company Brewing on Sunday, March 13. The show begins at 8 p.m. Donations support Girls Rock Milwaukee.